When pain or discomfort in women is discussed, the pains associated with the menstrual cycle and childbirth are typically what come to mind. However, pains from musculoskeletal origins – or pains from muscles, joints or bones – account for more pain in women than the aforementioned causes. They result in significant working days lost, and they become more frequent with age and impact women who engage in sports activities. The most common musculoskeletal pains in women are lower back pain, knee pain and neck pain.
For neck pain and lower back pain, the common causes depend on the age of the woman. In younger women, prolapsed or slipped discs are the culprit, especially for those who do vigorous sports. In adult women, back pain can occur during and after childbirth due to increased stress to the spine from the additional weight and increased ligament laxity. In older women, it can be due to disc degeneration and arthritis of the spine. Paradoxically, women who have sedentary jobs are also at risk as prolonged sitting can cause postural strain on the spine, which leads to postural pain.
As for knee pain, the most common causes include ligament strains, cartilage wear and arthritis. With increased sports participation, more women are getting knee injuries, and possibly accelerated cartilage wear and arthritis.
Prevention of such musculoskeletal pains requires the woman to practise good postures at work and during rest. They must also choose a sport that suits their body type and biomechanics. Sports and physical recreational activities must be carried out correctly to prevent injuries, both acute and from chronic overuse. Wear and tear to the joints can be slowed down if the person is not overweight and does correct exercises.
No woman needs to accept musculoskeletal pain as inevitable as these can be treated surgically or non-surgically. More than 90% of musculoskeletal conditions do not require surgery, thus, non-surgical or conservative treatments are advisable. These treatments include medications, physiotherapy and newer evidence-based modalities such as low-level laser therapy and platelet-rich plasma therapy. The latter two techniques have the advantage of reducing inflammation and pain, and more importantly, induce and accelerate tissue healing, which most other non-surgical modalities can’t do. These techniques have been used by elite athletes locally and overseas, and are now available to the general public.